Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Misuse of Art & A Higher Purpose for Art

My thoughts focus today on something that often weighs on my heart as an artist. What did the word "art" conjure in ones mind before what we now often see paraded as art in the media? It was once an expression of beauty, meaning, and edifying expressions of the heart. Creativity throughout history was used as a gift and expression of that place within the artist, or that which he or she sees around them in life, that touch us all. It was noble and enriching. We find ourselves now in a state in today’s culture where art is instead used as a medium to offend, outrage, and get attention. Art has become a means of provocative offense.

Ranging from the outright offensive to ugly or empty, it seems to say a great deal about us. More than we would wish. Walk down the halls of a major city’s art gallery and you see a timeline of wonderful art, until you come to the present time, when it plummets to depths that leave one shaking one's head. I am chiefly referring to art that is deliberately offensive or empty. Dry, bleak expression (such as dots on a wall, splotches of black smear, or even blank white canvasses) can leave one wondering what in the world this thing called art is really about.

How many times have the latest headlines in art news been that of offense, shock, and outrage, particularly to people with cherished values or Christian beliefs? This is portrayed by the art establishment as the modern elite aesthetic, the height of true artistic expression. This “pure”, “true” aesthetic has become synonymous with flouting values, especially if it is Judeo-Christian. Values themselves are instead redefined as destroying or denying freedom of expression, the unforgivable sin in all art forms in the modern mind. Freedom of expression is wonderful, but to abuse it as a cloak for depravity hurts us all.

Artists on the local community level are full of talent and meaning. There are many artists creating great art there. However, mass media and the higher culture shape what people ultimately see as representing art. It has now become pervasive in the mass media, is a major part of art culture in modern times. We have all heard of the examples of crucifixes in a jar of urine, baby skulls, piles of dirt on the floor, dung on religious images, religious symbols mocked or flouted in all manner of ways, pornography as art, other things that can not even be mentioned here really, all meant to deliberately outrage or offend. To shock and redefine not only artistic values, but societal values is its purpose. If the purpose were to reflect society itself, it seems only to wish to do so of depravity and empty despair. To me this is not respectful of the public, in my own opinion.

It is certainly true that there are very many and varied ways to express artistic expression in all manner of media, styles, and outlooks on life. That includes standing for something, or speaking out. It does include imaginative originality. One can portray struggles, or the painful parts of life, this is a good thing indeed. It is when art is used to outright offend people, to provoke and affront for the sake of doing that alone, that it becomes a crude blunt instrument that is really to me an irresponsible use of artistic expression. Perhaps in that way the question "does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?" is central. This is rather tragic either way. When will we once again become outraged ourselves at that which mocks and scorns what is good?

It is my heartfelt belief in creativity’s purpose to lift up and bring people together, and to respect those who view the art we create. Touching others with beauty, meaning, and inspiring the heart. To lift up the mind, society, culture, the noble part of the intellect. To show the public that they also are part of this thing we call art, an important part - and to have the utmost respect for them in the art presented.

While many use their art to "pollute the waters" so to speak, there are so many talented artists in everyday life around us, so many who do such wonderful work in every medium imaginable. It is a shame that their art is often lost in the focus on shock. We need to support them every way we can.

Some artists proffering the art referred to defend their work by telling us these things need to be seen, that art can't be defined, that we must be free to express ourselves even at the cost of decency. That people need to be shocked from their conventions. Seriously, do we really need more of that? Is life not full of violence, insensitivity, and pain already? Is that what we want art to become? Personally I find our daily lives are already cluttered with outrages.

I am not advocating censorship by any means. We all have choices we make freely. Rather, a call to the higher purpose of true art expression. A movement to bless others with art. A movement of graciousness to others. Are we snobby artists doling it out to the "unenlightened masses" whether they like it or not - or is the viewer a part of the art experience? An integral part, no less. Perhaps that hits at the heart of the matter. Artists might do well to remember that without the public, we are just expressing ourselves by ourselves, for ourselves. If one is entrusted with a talent or ability, it would be so much more enriching for us all if it is used with respectful care. That includes respect for the public and art in all its forms as well.

If art is going to continue to roll around in the muck and mire, we need this movement from both artists and the public to instead focus on shining light in the world. Art has the unique ability to touch the human mind and heart in that way. For the many artists I see out there who do wonderful work, what a shame it is that the other side is the face the public often sees.

Jeffrey M Green

Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8, the Bible.


  1. Hi Jeff,
    If I want to be shocked I just watch the 6 o'clock news. I like to think that most artists worth their salt will present works that make people happy, to think about the subject and talk about it without a negative reaction. Good piece.